The wait is over. The pain is over. The having to sit through the same stuff week after week after week after week is also, mercifully, thankfully, and finally over. USC will finally begin a college football season with actual expectations for the first time since 2012. That was the last time USC was in this position, but I wouldn't expect a similar result to 2012.
USC itself had finally tired of the excuses and hired Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma — and along with Riley came the talent, the recruiting class, and transfers. So now USC is poised to place the most athletic and dynamic quarterback they've ever had in their system on the field to do what he does best with all of the best talent they could give him from around the nation. When you are USC, it really is just that simple. You do one and the other just tends to happen.
Up first for that newly installed quarterback named Caleb Williams and his posse? The Rice Owls. This will be nothing more than a game for Williams to go out there and get comfortable with his new settings and his new teammates. The score should be out of hand quickly, and it should be a relatively easy day for them to learn and have fun. So, I'll present the following with that in mind.
Rice at No. 14 USC
When Rice Has the Ball
For Rice to get something out of this game, they're likely going to have to look beyond the scoreboard. Rice is a program that very much knows what it is, and the Owls lean into very well. They're an elite research institution and a pretty dang good baseball school. But they know they're fodder in football, and that's why their own Marching Owl Band (M.O.B.) often plays halftime shows that insult the opposing team's biggest rival. If Rice were playing this halftime show, they'd mock UCLA and Oregon the whole time. They like to endear themselves while they earn their check.
Football-wise, though, uh, they're all over the place. They've had some pretty good teams recently. The 2013 edition won 10 games and went to the Liberty Bowl, even if they did set the Liberty Bowl record for largest-ever loss. But that's Rice! That's why you love Rice. They'll do some incredibly wonderful things, and then most times they fail at the very end of it. But every great once in a while, Rice does something truly magical. USC will just be hoping it isn't this year.
When USC Has the Ball
All USC has to do to win this game is remain within themselves. Riley and his defensive coordinator Alex Grinch will surely have a solid plan for offense and defense. Ryan Dougherty will be responsible for USC's special teams, but beyond the return game and PATs, I'm not sure his guys will be called upon too terribly much. As for the star of the show, Williams, well, it's on him to go out there and win over the USC fans who have been waiting for someone like him seemingly forever.
That's kinda the cool thing here if you're Williams. This moment is practically made for you. The fans have wanted this new era. They cried loudly enough that the boosters bought in. Once the boosters bought in, it was over and done with for the old ways. Now Williams is the one who gets to introduce boosters and fans to what they've long said could be an unstoppable force. He gets the chance to be the force multiplier. Just have fun tomorrow and the W will come. Sorry, the analysis isn't more awe-inspiring than that, but it's true.
This game is meant for Rice to pick up a check and for USC to pick up a win. Beyond that, this matchup is going to be a bit of a double-edged blade. It won't prepare them in any way for Stanford, but it does give Riley a solid chance to take one final look at what he has before he begins the onslaught next week in Palo Alto. This game is a good chance to give a few guys a shot at another position or perhaps try a few things as the game winds down, and that's all you can ask for before you begin the kind of schedule USC has early on in 2022.
Prediction: USC 65, Rice 13
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— Written by Kane Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.